• November 2022 •
From Juan Navarro, Executive Director
Los Angeles Centers for Alcohol and Drug Abuse
Executive Director’s Message: Intentional Gratitude
This Thanksgiving, many of us will gather around the family table, just like always. Others will be forging a new way of life in recovery; observing Friendsgiving or enjoying a movie and some needed serenity. Whatever way we choose to celebrate, gratitude should be a part of our day.
I remind myself to practice intentional gratitude. This is when we try to not rush through life unaware and pressured. Instead, we look for opportunities to be thankful. The action of being grateful, expressing our thanks can be a powerful tool for living a meaningful life. Studies show that when we deliberately pursue an appreciation for the goodness in our lives, the result is an increase in our well-being and happiness. That’s intentional gratitude.
In addiction we frequently experience fear and negativity. This increases cortisol, a steroid hormone, within our bodies; initiating a “fight or flight” response in response to perceived danger. While this may protect us from a bear attack, it does nothing for us at the Thanksgiving table when “that” relative starts talking politics. However, developing a positive mindset will help.
Instead of dwelling on what we can’t stand or the things that are missing in our life, when we focus on the goodness in our life we are actually retraining our brain to look for abundance. A positive mindset is the pathway to new opportunities and using a small success to achieve a more meaningful life.
Intentional gratitude can set the tone for the rest of the day. Some people like to begin the morning with meditation or by using words of gratefulness aloud. You may prefer to reflect about your day in the evening, writing down the good moments and people who made you smile. During these times, I work to flip frustrations or challenges by looking for the new opportunities they present. Our thoughts direct our efforts, and purposely developing a positive mental attitude often results in more beneficial outcomes for us.
As the holidays approach, we tend to focus on gift-giving, to-do lists, and fitting all the extra activities in our already busy schedules. Instead, we could choose to make thankfulness the focus. Choosing to be happy here and right now is like a small pebble thrown into a pond; the ripples of goodwill can calm us and have a significant impact on other people.
Whatever you end up doing, L.A. CADA wishes you a happy and grateful Thanksgiving.
“My friends ask me what happens in treatment. The answer is it’s a lot. I say the main thing is you learn is to think a new way. Before recovery, I was pretty negative – my cup was always half empty. I was always thinking what I didn’t have, what people said wrong to me, and – why me? I was afraid the program would make me give up fun because partying was what was fun to me. I only went into treatment because the court made me. The first thing my counselor said was she was glad I was one of the lucky ones that got into the program. She told me a long time ago she had been lucky to get into treatment, too. First, I thought this woman is crazy. She loves her job, her sobriety, all the people in AA, her apartment, her cat — that woman just loved every damn thing. But as the days went on, I looked forward to meeting with her. It turns out you can catch happiness. My counselor showed me how. Today, I am clean sober, and I have a new job. And I am grateful. I say those words every day.”
SPOTLIGHT – THE EVIDENCE IS IN ON:
The Neuroscience of Gratitude
Someone once said that “It’s not happiness that brings us gratitude. It’s gratitude that brings us happiness.” But just exactly how do we get there? Prices of gas and groceries are sky high. Affordable housing is hard to find. The job is one stressful thing after another. And there just doesn’t seem to be much good news.
Science says we can actually change our brain and feel better every time we practice thankfulness.
So, how is thankfulness expressed? It can be a gesture, kind words, a smile ,or good deeds that we give or receive from others. Besides enhancing self-love and empathy, being grateful significantly impacts on body functions and psychological conditions like stress, anxiety, and depression.
Emily Fletcher, the founder of Ziva, a meditation training site, called gratitude a “natural antidepressant”. When practiced daily, the effects of gratitude can be almost the same as medications. It produces a feeling of long-lasting happiness and contentment, the physiological basis of which lies at the neurotransmitter level.
When we express or receive gratitude, our brain releases dopamine and serotonin, the two crucial neurotransmitters responsible for our emotions and making us feel ‘good’. This enhances our mood immediately, making us feel happy from the inside.
By consciously practicing gratitude every day, we can help these neural pathways strengthen themselves and ultimately create a permanent grateful and positive nature within ourselves. The practice of gratitude also releases toxic emotions, reduces pain, and regulates stress. No matter how desperate life seems, there is always something to be grateful for. This Thanksgiving, what’s on your list?
Read about: The Science of Gratitude